Happy Mother’s Day Message

I was pondering not putting this message on the blog, but I guess…. First off, I messed up the scriptures when I went to put the message together. I was in II Peter rather than I Peter as the lectionary suggested. Next I may have talked about my own family in ways that might not be appealing to all. Fortunately I tend to go off script, so what is here was not exactly what they heard. Let’s just say we had a jovial time again this morning and most of it was because I shared the truth about my own life. May you find some spark of truth and a real message in this, mixed up as it might be.

The scriptures for today were listed as: Acts 7:55-60, I Peter 2:1-10 (actually based it on II Peter 2:1-10) and John 14:1-14. Our title was, “Honoring Mothers.”

Let’s just start with what to me was the obvious oxymoron here today. When I opened up the desk calendar in the office and looked at the lectionary suggestions, I was a little stunned. I don’t understand fully how the powers that be don’t do some coordinating between the secular calendar year and the scriptures of the lectionary. This is Mother’s Day for goodness sakes and the scripture lessons somehow don’t seem to have anything at all to do with anything about honoring your mother. The verses in the gospel of John are more likely to be something you would hear at a funeral, and the writings in I Peter are instructions to tell Christians how to keep away from those who would lead you astray and the story in Acts is just too gruesome to even think about. Stephen who was not even one of the inner circle of disciples in his zeal to share the story of Christ ends up as the first martyr when a mob stones him while Saul AKA Paul watches in approval.

Actually, one of the first times I ever used the John 14 verses at a funeral was at Verna Schock’s, and I thought I was going to NOT like the one daughter-in-law very much. I wanted to read verses 1-6 or even to 7, but she told me I had to stop at verse 3. Interestingly as I was checking the “sermon seeds” in my email for this week, the write-up mentioned that too many people take this passage and only focus on verse 6. So, it got me to looking at the whole thing, especially the opening a bit closer. And there it is in the opening three verses, we hear those final words, the final instructions that Jesus is giving to his disciples before he leaves them, and here is where we can begin to realize the thread between these stories and this celebration of mothers.

First off before we go any further with this, let’s just stop and remember that in some of our past discussions, I have noticed that our wider church is more likely to set today as a celebration of the family, not just the mothers. Personally, I am ok with having a day for Mothers and another for Fathers. It gives a second opportunity for children to be guilted into remembering all the things their parents have ever done for them. I mean really in some homes everyday is children’s day. I am pretty sure if you check with my oldest two daughters that was not the case at our house, at least not where I was involved. But on the other hand they will be sure to tell you that things changed when the third one came along. Let me just say the jury is still out on how things will work for them with their children. For now I am noticing that there is little to no grown up television or movies to be seen when you enter their homes, and even Jessica has started checking in with cartoon channels while she is feeding and rocking one of the twins. Not so much at Grandma’s house.

One more personal note then I will get back to the lessons from the scriptures. This past Thursday I found a pair of matching coffee mugs that I just had to buy for those two “slighted” daughters. The writing on the side said, “Sometimes when I open my mouth, my mother comes out.” I believe they will notice that more and more as they age, whether they like it or not, many of us have been there for me it is more and more each day.

So what is the thread of Motherhood and mothers that comes from these scripture lessons. The one in second Peter could almost be compared to a mother lecturing her teenager as he or she is walking out the door. Last night was prom in Linton and we drove up to watch grand march. We attended somewhat because my niece Elisabeth was in it since her boyfriend is from there, and we also went as coaches just to let them know we are aware of where they are and that we are thinking of them. There were no lectures in practice on Friday, but plenty on Monday when they had their Jr/Sr banquet and that is sometimes reason for concern.

Some people might think that children/teenagers should be allowed to make their own decisions and especially their own mistakes. I would rather go along with the words of Peter as he spoke to the early Christians telling them about the false teachers that will try to infiltrate them, and how God was not so lenient with the angels who rose up against heaven, and even the story about the days of Noah and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yes, God is a loving God, but as Peter points out, those incidences of rebellion and disregard for God’s laws were not tolerated. And we probably all know well that Mothers, too have their limits, and when they set them it is with the safety and well being of their children in mind.

Now of the three passages we read today, I think the text in John is the easiest to relate to the actions and the love of a mother. This chapter is part of that long narrative in John about the final night Jesus is with the disciples before he is betrayed and arrested. Chapter 13 begins with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, then there is the last supper and in this chapter Jesus tells his disciples that he is going back to his father’s house to prepare a place for them. What a wonderful promise. He was going back to his home, to get a place ready for them and then he promises to return again to bring them to that house to live with him. Now it didn’t happen immediately and not all at once, but in their order each of the disciples was welcomed home to the place that was prepared just for them. And the great thing about this story is that it is meant for each of us in just that same way.

Let’s stop and think about this for a minute. How many of us have gotten our homes ready for someone to come and stay? At our place it becomes a major operation, especially at this time of year when the dust has piled so high on some of the shelves that I can write my name in them, then there are the dust bunnies who are big enough and old enough to be named and demand pet beds, and we won’t even discuss the windows. My mother used to tell me she always knew my house because it was the only one on the block whose windows were not washed.

We will likely have all the children at our place for a short time in June and I am already getting nervous about how we will get everyone into a room let alone into a bed that isn’t piled high with junk. I have to admit that my grand plan to eliminate some of the clutter from the house around the time of Lent fell by the way side after the first bag went out the door. Hopefully this summer there will be a little more cooperation from my hoarder self on this business of letting go.

Considering the sort of preparation we as humans go through to invite someone to a stay over visit, or the act of helping someone move into a new or different home, it is sort of hard to consider Christ telling us that he is going to prepare a place for us to live. This really doesn’t strike me as God’s work, to provide a home for us, yet that is what Jesus promises. “If it were not so, would I have told you…” If we as human parents stress and fuss and work to provide a place for our children to come to stay or even help them to find a spot to live, how much more do you suppose Christ has worked to provide a home for us, a place for us to join him in paradise?

Now the story from Acts almost seems like it should just be ignored in this discussion about honoring our mothers. How can we possibly see any sort of nurturing, mothering, loving story in this horrible account of a group of people turning into a mob that stones a man to death, and what about the man who stands quietly by holding their coats and allows them to do it? The horror of it just seems too much to even think about. The thread here comes from the words of Stephen as he is being stoned when he looks to the heavens and prays, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” His final words were much like those of Jesus who in his final words said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the same sort of love that mothers have for their children.

OK, yes there are times when we want to shake our fist and give them the Peanuts gang version of Lucy, “I will give you five reasons” and there are those exceptions of mothers who are more involved with things that are harmful–alcohol and drug abuse and such, but when you think of a loving and a caring, nurturing mother, you hear the same sort of words that Jesus and Stephen used in forgiving the mobs.

Mothers and fathers both want what is best for their children. They want a life that is better than the one they had, but the best that any of us can give our children is the story of Christ’s love for us. I am sure we would all agree that the best we can do for our children is not just to give them our love, but to give them the opportunity to share in God’s love.

And if any of you have not had a call or a card or a notice from someone today, let me say to all of you Happy Mother’s Day from me. In looking up the word mother I found such definitions as a woman exercising control, influence or authority, someone who is the origin, source or protector, to that I would add someone who nurtures or cares for another, regardless of gender. As I look around our congregation, I see, so many examples of ways we act as those descriptions for each other and it doesn’t matter our gender. Maybe that is who we are as a congregation, maybe that is what it means to be the church for each other. As we leave today on this beautiful Mothers’ Day, let’s remember to be that person who loves others just as Jesus did. And let’s reach out to others as our mothers would reach out to us. Amen!

Recognizing Jesus

This was my message last Sunday. The scriptures used were: Acts 2:14a, 36-41, I Peter 1:17-23 and Luke 24:13-35. The title was as posted above, and the message was about the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus and how we meet Jesus on the roads of our lives. Below is the script of what was presented, though I can’t guarantee that at times I was off a bit.

Some of you are aware that tomorrow, I am headed to a place called Ree Heights, SD. [Grrrrr, why didn’t I take a picture to add to this post?] According to the email directions that I received it is some place on Highway 14 between Highmore and Miller. Great! Not a problem, I have been on that road in the past, and the way roads are marked in South Dakota, this should be easy. But the hitch is that the meeting is not in Ree Heights. The meeting is in the country at Eagle Pass Lodge some 2.1 miles off the highway on a non-paved surface north of Highway 14 going north and curving east and following along and the other piece of information that Marva was able to glean off the internet for me was that there are NO road signs for this place, so keep close track of your mileage. As much as I use the internet to find songs or search out the answer to my questions, I don’t use GPS. I guess, sadly, in this day and age, I am just so old fashioned that I still believe in road maps.

Speaking of road maps, I have a quick story. About 10 years ago when Jessica was interning in Washington DC, she had to come home in the middle of the summer for a wedding.  So because of the cost of the trip, she decided to fly into the airport in Minneapolis, and she thought Victoria (who was maybe 19) should come and get her, alone. Well, I went along. The short version is we missed the exit for the airport and ended up in some little tiny out of the way area. The business section had boarded up gas stations and the restaurants were brick buildings with no windows and let’s just say none were familiar chain restaurants or anything to do with sausage or Knepfla and sauerkraut. We were in some really unfamiliar territory and didn’t know how to start finding our way back. We had a cell phone and I called my brother-in-law, Bruce for help. He knew Minneapolis fairly well, and with his knowledge and an internet search he was able to get us turned around and to the airport in time to meet her plane. Let’s just say it was scary, and I am pretty sure this trip tomorrow will be nothing like that one.

Our gospel lesson today is also about a trip. It is about a couple of disciples or the term should probably be followers because these two were not part of the inner circle of 12 which is now 11. They were on a trip on the third day after the death of Jesus, the same day that his tomb has been found empty. Unlike the two trips that I mentioned, they are going to a place they know. They are headed to Emmaus, which interestingly is one of those cities that the “experts” have not exactly located. I say interesting because when you study literature when a place is not specifically on the map it can translate to be Anyplace.

Not the best road, but a typical road here in the winter.

So these two followers of Jesus are traveling a road, well walking actually, on a road they have been on before to a place they have been before, but the difference for them is that they are going this time with a very different frame of mind. This time they are traveling with great sorrow in their heart and probably a bit of fear for their own lives. I will admit that during that drive into unknown territory in Minneapolis, I was more than a little scared. Victoria was driving and I just kept telling her where to turn and, I pretty much remember, saying don’t stop, don’t pull over just keep driving. These two men are walking along and recounting the events of the past few days, the past week, maybe especially the news from early this morning when their leader’s tomb has been found empty and they are wondering what is to happen next, and they meet up with a stranger.

Even stranger to their ears is the notion that this person has no idea of what they are discussing. This stranger seems to them to be the only person in existence who has no knowledge of the drama they are discussing. How can someone be in this vicinity and be so clueless? How can anyone possibly be on this road and not know that Jesus was crucified and now he is missing? As the story goes the three men travel along together until evening and then the stranger wants to go on his own way, but the two disciples insist that he stay and eat with them and that is where they recognize Jesus.

The point of this story for us today is not so much about the journey and knowing where we are going, or not know where we going as was the case in either of the two stories I mentioned in the beginning. The point for us is about recognizing Jesus, about recognizing the opportunities to be present with Christ in our everyday lives. Where is it in our lives that we have the occurrence, to be on this road with Jesus?

This feels like one of those tough, open-ended essay questions where the answer key says, “Answers will vary.” And the joke goes that the new teacher counts everyone’s wrong because she is expecting them all to write, “Answers will vary.”

How do we recognize Jesus when we are out walking the road of our lives? The truth is that Jesus is all around us, all the time. He comes and meets us on our road to Emmaus just as he met the disciples. It is a road we know, but it is also a road that holds lots of emotions. It varies from day to day. One day it is a road on which we are struggling, maybe in sorrow, maybe in frustration because things are not going as we think they should be. Some days it might be a road where we are rejoicing because of any number of blessings in our lives. The fact is that when Jesus meets us, he reassures us, he builds us up, and he gives us purpose, and rejoices with us. And we recognize Christ when we have a relationship with him. We recognize him when we take the time to let ourselves be drawn closer to Christ in prayer, in worship, in song and in the way we live our lives.

And hopefully we come to know that the encounter with Jesus is not really all about us, though sometimes when we are hurting that is what we need it to be. But the deeper the relationship we have, the more we begin to realize that looking outside of ourselves is really how we find Christ. I am not quite sure how to put this, but it seems to me that the more we come to know Christ and the more we travel with him, the more we realize that the journey should never end with it being about us. The time we spend together is about listening and learning so that we can be built up, and can be strengthen so that we are able to continue Christ’s message of love for this world.

We see from reading to the end of the gospels that Jesus did not stay with the disciples after the resurrection. He didn’t come back to be with them and continue their ministry physically, but he stayed with them and stays with us spiritually, and he continues on the journey with us as we meet others. That spirit that has been left with us is there to empower us as we encounter others. What is the line?…When you did it to the least of these, so you did it to me.

As we are strengthened by a closer relationship with Christ, we begin to recognize the needs around us. And did you notice where they were when the disciples realized who Jesus was? It was when they were sitting down to a meal that their eyes were opened to who he was. One interpretation of that might be that it is in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper that we find Christ. And another idea might be that it is in simple ordinary, everyday tasks when we encounter Christ. Did we offer someone a glass of water, a cup of coffee, to join us in a meal? Did we open someone’s door or help them with a task they couldn’t do alone? Did we listen to a friend in need? I am so starting to understand the importance of that simple deed of listening, even and especially when we think we are way too busy doing something of great importance.

The last thing I want to mention today is the text from the book of Peter. In this passage Peter is trying to explain to the early Christians the importance of treating each other up with the same love that Christ had for them. The churches were facing conflicts both from inside themselves and from outside of their circle of Christians. Historically I can understand the conflict that the early church faced from outsiders, but I always had this notion of them being really together as a group. Yet I suppose they were all looking to take leadership control, and I guess if you consider it, that is how conflicts inside a church can happen.

But instead of arguing or demanding their behavior to be a certain way, Peter simply reminded them all to love as Christ loved them, and he said they were to love, deeply. The real meaning of the Greek word at this point is not deep as like a deep hole, but instead the word is more like strenuous or sustained, like a long distance run. Peter is talking about a persistent love, a love that will not let go. Peter reminds us that Christ wants us to keep on loving even when it seems that there is no hope. Peter told the believers and us when we see situations of conflict that we are to love because God is at work in the situation, and we are not to be discouraged or drug in other directions.

This week as we set out on our journey to wherever Emmaus is for us, I pray we are able to carry the spirit of Christ with us and recognize the needs Christ sets before us to be filled, and mostly I pray that we be filled with the deep love that God gives us, so we are able to share that love with those we meet. Let’s go today with our eyes opened wide to see the risen Christ in our world. Amen!

And for an update, the trip was wonderful! Three of us traveled together and shared information and stories on the way there and back. The meeting was uplifting and supportive and we were approved for another year, and so all was good. For those of you who took the time to stop and read through this message, I pray God’s blessing on you!!

Message 4-2-17: New Life

Before I share the message that I used in our service on Sunday, I need to explain that while I was posting and thinking about other things on Saturday, April Fool’s Day, in Arizona other members of my extended family were having a very different sort of day. Later that evening, we received word that my 67-year-old uncle passed away of an apparent heart attack. I guess there will be a medical examination to determine cause of death before this is all over. I had completed the message before we got the call, and so I did make a few minor adjustments as I was speaking. For the most part what is posted below is what they heard.

One thing I wish to add, the opening song was “Jesus I Come.” As we began singing, I saw the lyrics with fresh eyes. All I could think of was someone saying those words as they were passing from this life to the next. I had not looked at that song quite like that before, and perhaps won’t ever see it any other way.

Here is what I mean:

  1. “Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus I come…In to thy freedom, gladness and light, Jesus I come to thee. Out of my sickness into thy health, out of my need and into thy wealth. Out of my sin and into thyself, Jesus I come to thee.

The other lines that start with out of include: shameful failure and loss, earth’s sorrows, life’s storms, distress, unrest and arrogant pride, despair, the fear and dread of the tomb, the depths of ruin untold. The other into’s include: joy and light of thy home, peaceful sheltering fold and jubilant psalm among others. It was hard to sing and for a time I could not, but it gave me the courage to give the message with greater conviction. Hope it makes sense to you.

The title of the message was: “New Life.” the scriptures used were: Ezekiel 37:1-14 and John 11:1-45.

For a couple of weeks we have been watching the geese fly and waiting for the waters to open. As much as geese signal spring, the sure sign for me is the sound of the cranes. It seems that when the other birds come there is still a chance of snow here or there, and some people swear by the return of the robins, but I have seen snow many times after their arrival, for me the trick is seeing the cranes come back. And even though they fly really high and sometimes there is noise around, somehow their sound always comes through, that whirly, purring sort of sound that is different from other birds. I just love hearing them. Now if I could just get lucky enough to catch some of them with the camera that would be a highlight of my spring.

As for a not highlight of my spring, that was last week. Last week I was not so sure how long it was going to take for me to feel like I would survive. Friday, I started to feel sick, Saturday I was tired and miserable, but I found some old decongestant tablets and so I had a bit of relief. Sunday was not all that bad mostly because I had to get out of bed and get here to be with you, but the afternoon and evening were all downhill. Monday when I should have been able to sleep in and get some rest, I got up and told James I would start jotting down some plans for my funeral because I wasn’t sure how long I would still be breathing. (In light of the news we had Saturday, this remark seems rather inappropriate.)

I know that I shouldn’t joke about something like that, and of course there was no reasoning with me to go to the clinic. First off I realized that when you blow your nose and the stuff coming out does not have a color there is probably no bacteria and no way to treat it beyond over the counter drugs. I also started thinking about what Jessica was told when she went to the Dr. a few weeks back. They told her to wash her hands more and drink plenty of fluids. Wash your hands more is now the standard family joke. Monday afternoon, I purchased some decongestant and life got better. Hopefully this is the worst of the springtime illnesses at our house.

So, I might have been feeling better, but when I finally opened up the calendar and saw the lectionary scriptures for today, I cringed and nearly went back into sick mode. Three years ago this was the Sunday of my installation. So as the cycle goes, we have the same scripture lessons as that day, and I really don’t want to repeat that message. I initially had a hard time figuring out where to go that would be different. And as you can see the epistle lesson isn’t even in the bulletin, so that isn’t an option.

Of course the obvious answer would be to focus on the passage from Ezekiel instead of the story about how Lazarus was raised from the dead. I like that idea even less. I don’t like the Ezekiel scriptures and it is a silly reason, but it goes back to my college days. The man who was president of the college when I attended there was somewhat fixated on Ezekiel and used it often in his writings or speeches. For some reason his presentation turned me off at the time, and after he was asked to leave the post because of financial improprieties, I liked it even less. Maybe I will grow out of this down the line, but for now I am not there yet.

So here we are again with the story of the death of Lazarus and how his sisters Mary and Martha and their friends were grieving this tragic event. But today I don’t want to talk about the historical facts of that death and I especially don’t want to talk about the grief (yet ironically my family and I are grieving yet again this weekend) or even how amazing it was that Jesus was able to raise his friend who was in the grave for four whole days. Today I would rather look at this a new way. I would like to look at this in terms of what it means for us. If Jesus was able to raise Lazarus whose body should have smelled from decomposition, what can he do for us, who are still here very much alive in a physical sense?

Today I don’t want to think about all that stuff about Jesus talking to the sister and looking at the closed tomb and then actually grieving—crying real tears himself. No, today I want us to think about how Jesus looked at the tomb where he knew his friend was and instead of saying he was sorry not to get there sooner, Jesus raised his voice and he called for Lazarus to come out. That’s what he did, he stood there and called, “Lazarus, come out!” And if you want the substance of the message today, you hear those words with your name in that sentence. Jesus calls us each to come out of the tomb of our existence.

This is where we look at the scriptures differently than we looked at them in the past. Instead of seeing the grief stricken sisters and friends or even considering what Lazarus gave up by coming back, we see the new life that happened. Today we consider that the call of Jesus brought Lazarus to a new life. The simple call of Jesus brought Lazarus not just back to his old life to continue on, but to a new life, to a testimony of truth of the reality of Jesus, to the power of Jesus’ love, to the difference that the call from Christ can make in our lives.

This is the point of these scriptures for us today. It is the call of Jesus, the beckoning of our Christ that gives us new life. In reality this would probably have been a much more appropriate message for me to hear three years ago, but at that time I wasn’t anywhere near being able to imagine it let alone write it or speak it at that time.

New life is more than just the resurrection that we all hope to experience when this life that we now have is over. New life is about our personal survival of so many things. New life is about overcoming an illness, surviving a job change or the loss of a parent or a sibling or a spouse or even a child. I was reading one of the blogs that I follow last week. This blogger was not posting anything for a time, and it seems something has happened to cause the person pain, but they have not revealed details. I have been concerned that maybe something happened to another family member, but slowly the comments about others in the family are returning. I just know that something is different in this person’s life and I tried to leave a gentle encouraging remark on the last post as a way to connect and to let the blogger know I cared. I was relieved when I received a like for my comment.

New life is an adjustment. New things in our lives, whether they are new jobs—or retirement, different homes, new situations, a change in our health and mobility, new family members, or even the loss of someone close to us those are all adjustments we experience in life. Those are even things we grieve for a time, even when we are excited for the new, there are scary points just as much as when we experience loss. What we need to remember is that just like Lazarus heard Jesus call to him to come out of the tomb, Jesus calls to us to come out of our tombs of existence to experience the great love that he has for us. And more than that, Jesus calls us to come out and share that love with all those around us.

We might not know the details of what happened to Lazarus after Jesus called him from the tomb, and he came out alive and restored. But we can be sure that he didn’t hide out away from the world keeping this miracle to himself. Jesus called him to have a new life. Jesus restored Lazarus to life, just a few days before he himself would be betrayed and crucified and then rise from the dead. He didn’t make that call so it would be kept quiet. And Jesus doesn’t call us from our everyday lives in order to come here to worship then quietly slip out the door back to our homes to keep these beliefs and ideas to ourselves. Jesus calls us out of the tombs of our existence to share—to share what we know to be true with everyone around us.

The epistle lesson we didn’t read today comes from Romans 8:6-11 (read it) Paul tells us that when we give ourselves to Christ, we are given new life through the spirit of God. It is the spirit that lives in us that gives us the ability to answer Christ, to come out of our tombs and follow Jesus wherever that may be. Let us go this week with the strength of that conviction, answering that call as joyously as this magnificent spring day demands. Amen!

Be the Light!

Be the Light

Be the Light

Below is the message from Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017. The scripture lessons were: Isaiah 58:1-9a, I Corinthians 2:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20 and the title was “Be the Light.”

In the newsletter that you found or will find in your box this morning, I talked about the advantages of being a pack rat. Some of you will laugh because of how I have been complaining about clutter for over a month, and now I think it is good to be a pack rat. The issue is that I keep all of my messages with the bulletin and other notes like announcements in a binder each year then this past December, I put them in a file box in chronological order. It was helpful to look at for the Historian’s report, and now I find it useful each week as we are now repeating the lectionary cycle from 2014. So now I can look back to read that former message and mostly see which scripture I used as the focus for the morning. Today, I can tell you that the last time we discussed this gospel text, I put most of the focus on the part about the salt.

While our focus three years ago was on the statement about salt, and how it flavors foods and reacts chemically, there is more to it than just that. Jesus also inferred that salt is also used as a preservative and when it loses that quality it is pretty much useless. During the time of Jesus “the Rabbis used the term Salt as an image for wisdom” (France 117). [from Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Matthew by R T France.] Add to that the “translation from the original Greek for “lost its taste” actually means ‘become foolish’” (117) and we begin to understand exactly what Jesus was saying to the disciples about not losing their ability to follow and learn and do what they are asked to do in working with him to proclaim the kingdom of God to the world. He does not want them to lose their focus and drive. He does not want them to lose their wisdom in what he teaches them and become foolish. He needs them to learn and to eventually lead. Interesting thought for us even today. And speaking of today, isn’t it true that today when we say salt of the earth people, we are talking about common, everyday, down-to-earth sort of people? That is what we here are, and we, too, need to learn from Jesus’ teachings so we can be the leaders that are of value to him.

Today, though, I want us to concentrate more on the part of that passage that involves light. As Jesus was talking to the disciples he not only told them they were the salt of the earth but also the light of the world. As I started to consider light and just how important it is in our life, I was reminded of those two days when the lights went out right after Christmas. If we put aside the fact that it was cold outside and the heat was off, the issue of not having light wasn’t really so bad until the sun went down. Am I right? During the day, it was a matter of opening the curtains, well if you have them, which on most windows we don’t but that is another story. At night there were candles or flashlights or as we were running around gathering all of those, there were the lights on the cell phones. In my bedroom, I have two kerosene lamps hanging on either side of my patio doors, and those are really handy when the lights are out because they throw lots of light, unless they are empty as one of them was. Oops. The point is that light is important, and those couple of days probably reinforced it for all of us.

I have been noticing the importance of light more and more lately and really see the difference in amount and quality of light when I am reading. I used to think that is was just the size or the particular font that made most of the difference, but I am beginning to recognize the wisdom of my mother and grandmother and great aunts when they would say that you should have good light for reading because it was bad for your eyes, maybe not so much when I was young and knew everything, but now as I get closer to their age, I see their wisdom. Light, good light is so very necessary to see what is important.

The sort of light Jesus suggests with that line about a city on a hill is more like a beacon. A beacon shines in the dark as a guide to others. Think of a lighthouse and how its light would guide sailors to the shore or light the way to help them maneuver past a rocky cliff. Jesus is encouraging his disciples to be the light for others, to show them the way to him because he is the true source of all light. Jesus is also telling us to be that light for others to help point the way to him because he is the true source of all light. And that is what is expected of us as Christians to point the way to Jesus. As a Christian our light is not about attracting attention to ourselves, but showing others the goodness of Christ’s love so that they might see the way to his salvation.

The third part of this light passage seems a little “duh” yet just might be the thing that we as a church should consider more. That line about how no one after lighting a lamp puts it under a basket. Of course we know that a light shouldn’t be hidden under a basket. In the first place if you are thinking about a light with a flame, covering it would choke off the air and suffocate the flame. At the least it would dim it enough that it wouldn’t be of any real use to anyone. And that is what Jesus meant both in terms of a light, and in terms of the light of guiding others to find their way to him. Jesus expects more from his disciples and his churches than just accepting his light and hiding it away for ourselves. He expects us to share our light with all around us, so they can have light too. It all goes back to that candle at our Christmas Service where we shared the light and the total light was multiplied, not divided. I believe we have seen in the past years that as we share more of our light, we have more light to share and we are brighter because of it.

Our Old Testament lesson for today might not seem to fit into this discussion about light or salt, but it fits with this idea that our light is not just for ourselves and it is certainly not to be used to make us look good. Chapter 58 of Isaiah speaks of fasting, which is something that many churches participate in during the season of Lent, which is actually right around the corner. As we have talked of in the past, this is not something we do, and passages such as this one might be part of the reason that we don’t. This passages talks about fasting to make yourself look good and that is not the intent. The true intent of fasting is to make yourself ponder and consider and concentrate on what Christ wants of your life and how to purify yourself for that work.

This passage suggests that instead of fasting for the wrong reasons we should instead take up a cause to help others. To work for justice for those around us, something that the hardcore, mainline people of our denomination are pretty outspoken about. I was reading some of the posts under the tag, UCC on the Reader part of the blog that I am on this past week and I was really upset with one of the posts that I read. There was a very negative comment about our denomination. It was all about how because we have no set in stone doctrine, we have no direction and we don’t’ look at scripture correctly and we really are not a church worthy of joining, and I so badly wanted to bite back, but realized that there was no changing that mindset. I also know that it is not a good idea to get into a urination contest with a skunk, so I just bit my lip and moved on to read something else. But it made me stop and think about the importance of our social justice work because our churches and the members of our churches are not about forcing others to believe the exact same way that we believe, but we are about taking the time to get to know each other and finding ways to work together to reach out to each other in Christ’s love. We are to be that beacon of light that points the way for others to find Christ. We are not the judge that tells them they are not worthy.

Right to life issues: Not really pro life, it is pro-birth. Someone who is really pro life believes in things that support quality of life, not just the birth of a person. I have not actually researched our local or state legislatures, but I encourage all of us to do a little “follow the money” sort of look into what they are supporting and what is being cut. Someone who is really pro life will not vote for cuts in funding for those who are at the poverty level, for school lunches, for early education intervention, for special needs children and their families or for shelters to help those who are abused and the list goes on.

In the passage Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, we see that Paul was encouraging the members there to be more perfect than the law. Not to be above the law in a way that no one could reprimand them for their wrongdoing, but to do things the correct way, to treat others with respect and to act in a way that would not hurt anyone else. And when you think about doing a job and being an example, to be a good example you should do your job better than anyone else. I guess if you stop to think about it that makes good sense.

I will give you one quick example. I used to be an English teacher. I should know maybe better than some that when I write or speak I should use my own thoughts, or I need to give credit to those that I have quoted or even paraphrased. Quick side note: when I was taking classes at Northern State one summer, one of the students was kept after for a “talk.” We later learned she had plagiarized her paper quite obviously and this was her one warning. The NSU English department had a rule of dropping a student from their major if they plagiarized. I guess that conversation was to determine intent or lack of knowledge. Thus as church goers, church leaders Paul tells the people of Corinth and us that we need to follow the laws not just to be smug and say we are better than others, but as an example of what it means to live as Christ asks us to live so that we are able to point the way for others to follow him. Remember to those whom much is given, much is required, and as members of a fellowship of believers it is given to us to be positive, good examples for others, not smug, “better than anyone” sort of Christians, but true believers who are here to joyfully share our walk with Christ with all those around us. Let’s make sure we do that this week and all weeks. If we do that, we will be that light that Jesus was talking about with his disciples all those years ago. Amen!

Year in Review/Planning the New

Today our church held its annual meeting. It was a long day, sort of. We had a regular service with Communion then went to the basement and held our business meeting then joined together in a pot-luck meal. It is always such a good time together. We have a variety of people from their early 50’s to one lady who will be 90 this summer. She is a spry one too. I have always wondered on their ages and today the moderator let the cat out of the bag when he said one was a junior in 1947 when he was a sophomore, and she promptly said, I was a senior. Well, I could do math pretty fast, and then the others started filling in where they fit in the mix. Wow! They are a plethora of knowledge for me. I also intend to gather up all my knitting and other sewing questions for the eldest of the women soon. It seems that any project I am working on, she has already done. Her work is always so meticulous too. What she could teach youngsters, but we just are not quite on the ball enough to learn or to connect those dots. What a waste. And by the way, the picture of the quilt off to the side is one that we made as a group this year, and they presented it to me this year. What a thing this congregation is. I appreciate them more than they can know!!

My new quilt.

My new quilt.

So back to the church thing. Our scriptures today were the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-13, then a bit in I Corinthians 1:18-31 and finally I used the Old Testament of Micah 6:1-8 as our focus. I did this with a power-point presentation, which I will not show here. I did that one year and the amount of space it takes is unreal. I showed the power-point and we talked about all the things we had done during the year. Fortunately I had pictures of some of our events. I always seem to forget to take them, and had help this year because my secretary shared some of hers. Then at the end, I added what is below as the finish to our message. Hope it makes some sense for the rest of you, too.

Another view

Another view

Now that we have looked over the past, and maybe even thought about more things than what we say, let’s turn toward the future….

The gospel reading for today was from Matthew and the passage is what we call the Beatitudes. This is where Jesus begins his famous Sermon on the Mt. and he is teaching his disciples and followers so many things. He starts with:  Blessed are the __ for they will____ The one that I always remembered was the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God… In other words those who do what they can to end strife, to prevent harm to someone by another, those are the people who God wants as his children. Certainly a goal to work for.

Mostly as I read these verses, I notice the absence of negatives. Jesus doesn’t teach from the aspect of punishment in this passage. He doesn’t say, Condemned are the liars, the thieves, the murderers, the cheats, the bigots, the…. These words are a stark contrast to the teachings of the Old Testament laws. 

So moving on to the words from Paul today, in this part of the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul seems to be writing in contradictions and if you try to read these verses quickly, it is easy to be confused by them because they seem to be saying the opposite thing all the time. The bottom line of what Paul is writing is that God does not choose the most powerful, or the most beautiful or the best of anything to put at the front of the line or to go about doing his work. Mostly, according to Paul, the ones who are set in front are those who are not quite perfect. (whew—that seems to give me a little hope) God chooses the humble, the lowly, the one who is not quite so, how does my family put it, easy on the eyes… Paul says that God chooses the lesser to be the leader so that no one can boast of their own talents or abilities because it is all about God, and that any boasting should be because of Christ and not because of ourselves.

So this leads us to our focus for today. The scripture that we read last, the ones from the Old Testament seem to be the exact ones for us to think about as we head downstairs to our Annual planning meeting, because that is really what we are doing in the New Business section of the meeting, we are planning what comes next.

The writer of this text obviously understands being nothing more than a lowly sinner. This author realizes that in the eyes of God, no one—no human is worthy of redemption and there is nothing we can give to buy back our salvation. Nothing.

The speaker asks, what can I bring? And he goes on to name some ideas: a calf, ok that is not nearly enough, how about some expensive oil, how about rivers of that oil, that is still not enough

What about my first born child… now this speaker is getting a little warmer, and as we read these words and make them our own, maybe we are getting a little closer. Now maybe we are getting the hint. It is not our first born child that is worthy of the sacrifice, it is God’s first born child that makes the difference. And so what can we do in the end? Nothing except to accept that sacrifice in our place. But then the speaker notes that God does ask something of us. As we accept Jesus as our means to Salvation, God also asks that we: Do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.

As we go to our meeting today, I hope we remember those things and ponder and move and vote to do those things as a congregation. Amen.

 

 

So true, so true!!

Sometimes it’s simple things that speak loudly. Just after looking at a recipe, I heard a POP and knew it was something in the fridge. My imagination did not prepare me. The biscuit tube I had thought to use, was overflowing its diagonal lines… How often are your hopes and ideas bursting before you get to […]

via when plans burst — It’s not really about me…

Called Together

Not really feeling the greatest today, so I will post my message from church and call it good. Hope to be back posting tomorrow or later this week. We have a very full week lined up, so hoping that the snow predicted for Tuesday holds off or is mild and that the weekend is as good as is promised. Catch you later.

The title for today was as above and the scripture was: Isaiah 9:1-4, I Corinthians 1:10-18 and Matthew 4:12-23

A view of church from where I stand.

A view of church from where I stand.

Just for the record, three years ago on this Sunday, we called off church due to bad weather, and apparently it was not the best winter on record then either. A few weeks back if you remember, I talked about clearing out some of the clutter at my place, and though I had a decent start on that project, I have to admit that I got a little side tracked during that power outage over Christmas. Yesterday it occurred to me that the way I have been feeling the last few weeks, you would think that the outage was a week or two rather than just a couple of days. For some reason, I just can’t get back into doing anything and so if you are wondering why there is no Annual Meeting report booklet in the mailboxes yet, that is the main reason. I have missed a few Wednesdays in the office and the week before this past Wednesday, I really couldn’t get much accomplished beyond the Ministerial Meeting, the bulletin and the Board Meeting.

Last Wednesday Patty was in the office and we worked on the Historian’s Report together. And I will admit that I should have just left it as is, but when I get on a roll it is pretty typical stubborn German-Russian. I took the report home on my flash drive, along with the Pastor’s Report which is likely the last one in the book. On Thursday, I pulled out my stack of bulletins and messages for the year and went over both those reports trying to make sure that nothing was left out. Well, I know for sure that a couple of items were missed in terms of dates, but I see they are listed under the Memorial Report so they are covered. The bottom line is some people are not capable of making a long story short. I admit, (and I bet none of you knew this before) it is really easy for me to make a short story long.

The point of all of this is that in taking the time to write up those reports, I stopped and looked through the papers and notes that I kept from this past year, and I was reminded of some of the things we did as a group, some of the discussions we had, and the scriptures that we studied. I also learned something from the notes that I kept in regard to our attendance. I was amazed at how many times we have visitors in church with us. Sometimes one or two, sometimes several, and so many different people here just seemingly on a whim, not always with someone as a guest. And through the whole thing, I was amazed again at how much we were able to do together. The key word being: Together.

I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that every year about this time there is a scripture lesson that touches on how Jesus “called” his disciples to follow him. Last week we looked at how John wrote of Andrew and Peter coming to take a look at the work Jesus was about. This week we look at the passage in Matthew when Jesus very specifically passes by the boats where Andrew and Peter and then down the shore a bit where a second set of brothers, James and John are working, and he calls out to them to follow him. The actual text before translation was “come behind me.”

As Jesus calls these two sets of brothers he asks them to come and fish for people. He recognizes that they know how to fish and he invites them to fish not for the creature in the water that is sold as food, but to fish for humans that are looking for a fulfillment you cannot get by eating. In the Old Testament there is a place in Jeremiah that refers to fishing for people and it means “fishing” more like we think of as “fishing” for information so you can catch someone at something. They were more about “catching” someone to send them to judgment. The “catching” Jesus was referring to was to catch someone in order to lead them to salvation.

One of the readings I came across this week gave me some new information about these men and their occupations. I was always had the belief that these fishermen/ disciples were likely poor in relation to someone like Matthew the tax collector or some of the religious leaders of the time. Apparently the water that they fished was very productive and they likely made a decent living, in fact it was noted that James and John’s father employed other fishermen and so it was a fairly good business. When they answered Jesus’ call, their lives were disrupted and it was sort of a big deal. For some reason, I just had this idea that they were young men who really had not established themselves and so accepting this call wasn’t much of anything. So, I learned something.

But the difficulty of their call is not really the focus of today. The focus is the idea of them being called, together, at the same time, to join in a group to work with and for Jesus and be with him as he fulfills his mission and then to carry on his mission. We see the importance of that when we look at the words written by Paul to the Corinthians.

This passage which we read at the beginning of Corinthians is about the early church there and how something is happening that is causing friction inside that group of believers. Paul writes to them reminding them of the grace of God that has been given to them and then flat out says that he has heard of some division among their members. He appeals to them in the name of Jesus and says that they should be in agreement with no division among them. Mostly he was meaning division about which person: Paul, Appolos or Peter has the correct view of how to follow Christ. Paul reminds them that the only one they need to follow is Christ.

As we read this scripture today we are reminded to work together as a fellowship of believers. Just as the fishermen were called together from the seashore to follow Jesus as he walked throughout the area teaching and healing and preaching the way to salvation, we are called together as a church to share the message of Jesus with those around us. And as we are called, it is not just as individuals in our own corners of the community or of the world, but we are also called as a group, as a church to fill a void, a mission in our community. And as we do so, we do it together, maybe not all of us at the same time or even most of us, but some of us working together doing what we can to share the mission and love of Christ.

Hopefully next Sunday I will have another power-point for you of what we accomplished this past year. I have been digging around in my photo stash and Marva sent me some of what she took, and I have plans to put them together this week so that during the service we are reminded of what we did, so that when we get to the meeting after church, it will help us decide what we should continue and what we should perhaps change.  And though some of us might want to say, but what we did was great, why mess with it, change is ok too and so I hope we all are willing to speak up about what we liked or didn’t and add a new idea or two.

Our Old Testament reading, the text from Isaiah is something we probably want to associate more with the words that we read during Advent. Note: especially the second verse where it says, “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.” We only read a small portion of this chapter that clearly points to the birth of Jesus the expected Messiah. The light that is mentioned is clearly a metaphor for Jesus who is considered the Light of the World.

If you were here on the 23rd when we celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, as we were about to do the candle lighting at the end, you might remember that I said something about how when a candle gives its light to another candle, it doesn’t lose any of its own light, I found the place I read that the other day. The exact words are: “A candle loses none of its light by lighting another candle” and the author is unknown. Apparently I was bored one day when I was substituting and I wrote down several quotes.

Also on that sheet: Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you are right.” Vince Lombardi said, “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.” And at the bottom of the sheet, I added my own version, “There is no I in teamwork or cooperate.” Last week we talked about being called, sort of like the disciples were called individually to join Jesus in his earthly walk around the Holy Land. Today I hope we have heard that when they were called it was not just as individuals, but together as a group, as a fellowship of disciples.

We as a church are made up of individuals who are similar in some ways, but different in many ways, which is really a benefit when we have jobs to fill in the life of the church. Mostly we as a church are called to work together to fulfill the mission of the whole of the congregation. We are here to be the light that Christ needs in this place and time. Let us continue to do that as best we are able. Amen!

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